Last week I blogged about what inspired me to quilt and asked about your inspirations. This week, I thought I’d share what I think are the most important quilting tips for all quilters, beginners to experienced. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and many quilters will have their own thoughts on what are the most important things for successful quilting. Share with me your favorite tips and maybe we’ll all learn something!
Tip #1 – Machine Cleaning
Very important: Always be sure your sewing machine is ready to stitch. That collection of lint under the throat plate is actually not a part of the machine! I recommend a yearly tune-up at the shop where you purchased your machine. If that’s not possible, make sure you are cleaning the bobbin compartment, hook race and bobbin case as well as the area under the throat plate. Be sure to drop the feed dogs before lifting off the throat plate.
I use the small soft brush that came with the machine to clean out these areas. If you do not have that brush or one did not come with your machine, you can use a clean, small makeup brush easily found in the cosmetics department.
Finally, be sure to pull out your machine manual and lubricate it as advised. Most machines today have a sensor that will tell you when lubrication is needed, but if yours doesn’t you should lubricate the recommended areas when you notice your machine sounds different than normal as you stitch. I can tell when my machine sounds louder. Once I lubricate, it quietly hums as I’m sewing. If you use your machine several hours a day every day like me, you will have to lubricate more often. And …..
beware of the cat who wants to help…..
Tip #2 – Needles
Be sure you are using a fresh needle. Don’t wait until a needle breaks to change it. A good rule of thumb is to put in a new needle after every completed project, especially if you have just completed a large one. If you have just made a table runner, you can probably get away with keeping the needle for your next project. Another way to know when to change a needle would be after you’ve gone through 3 bobbins.
Damage to a needle is not visible to the naked eye but under a microscope, you will see burrs and cracks. Click here to see what a damaged needle looks like. It can also be bent. Here are some ways you can tell you need to change your needle:
- If you hear a “punching” sound as your needle enters the fabric.
- Your top thread keeps breaking.
- You see snags develop in the fabric where the needle enters when you are stitching.
- You can see the holes where the needle entered.
Needles are relatively cheap. Certainly cheaper than fabric and thread, so keep that needle new as often as possible so you’re not wasting thread or damaging your fabric.
Tip #3 – Thread & Bobbins
I recommend 100% cotton 50w thread for stitching your pieces. I like to use Aurifil 100% cotton 50wt. I have found that this thread creates the least amount of lint build up as opposed to other threads I have used.
I choose a light neutral color thread for all projects unless I am working with really dark fabrics. In that case I will use a dark brown or black thread for piecing.
I also recommend winding several bobbins before beginning a project, especially a large one. That way, you can quickly pop a new bobbin in instead of having to stop to wind it.
Tip #4 – Tools, Pins and other Things
Keep your tools close at hand. I like to have my scissors, a small ruler and a pressing stick right by my machine. The pressing stick is my favorite of these because I can press seams on small units of a block so I don’t have to keep getting up for pressing at the iron. Here’s how I store my tools:
That’s a soap dish I found at Target in the bathroom supplies aisle. It’s the type that affixes to your shower wall with suction cups. I just ditched the suction cups and use Command strips to affix it to the edge of my sewing table.
Here’s the pressing stick and how you use it:
My other favorite tool I keep by my machine is a small ruler that is handy to measure units as I go to make sure I am stitching them the correct size.
Did you notice my pins? To keep them corralled next to my machine, I turned a magnet upside down (the kind you buy as a souvenir), affixed it to my sewing table with a Command strip and I have an instant magnetic pin catcher!
Tip # 5 – Time to Stitch (Random Tips)
Speaking of pins, I recommend always pinning your pieces. This really does help with accuracy. If the pieces you are stitching together shift as you are stitching, your unit will be off. The feed dogs below and your guiding hand can move the pieces at different speeds. It only takes a tiny movement of one or the other and you’re ripping stitches! Pinning also assures the seams that you were careful to line up before stitching stay lined up.
Chain stitch where you can. To make chain piecing even more efficient, consider pairing up the pieces you are stitching and stacking them so you can just grab and feed!
Finally, I like to use what I call a leader/ender piece when I begin stitching.
This is a thread saver, since I am not pulling my finished piece away from the machine to snip it. I just run this leader/ender piece through at the end of my stitching and snip my sewn unit off after it’s out from under the foot. I like using this to lead off stitching pieces to avoid thread glitches or fabric pieces scrunching up. It’s also a good way to put some fabric scraps to good use!
That’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed my favorite quilting tips. Share yours in the comments below. Perhaps they will be helpful to others. I will draw a name from the commenters to win a pair of scissors to keep by your machine so you will always have them available!
The drawing will be on Monday, July 12th. Good luck!
***We have a winner! Congrats, EllenB!***
Kathleen C. says
I love your tips. Using the soap dish and the magnet are clever and practical-I’ll pass those ideas to a friend who is learning to quilt. One of my tips: When I stitch the diagonal line across the corner square on a snowball block, I put a piece of painters tape on the machine. It provides a guideline for my stitching, and I don’t need to draw the diagonal line like I used to. I’m enjoying your posts since I recently discovered your blog.
The tape on the machine is a really good idea. I have that on my machine marking the 1/4″ seam and it works for the diagonal seams as well.
Good ideas. I use a fat fuzzy pipe cleaner to clean my machine. Gets down into areas the small brush doesn’t. Wondering—-if you labeled bobbins 1, 2, 3 to help remind you to change the needle after a large project or after several small projects. Might work since I usually use neutral threads to stitch. Aurifil thread does create less fuzz.
Good idea on labeling the bobbins! I also like the pipe cleaner idea to get into those really tiny spaces.
Janet Brooks says
Thank you very much for all of the good tips. I would say one of the big or best items you need and learn early on is this. Buy yourself a Rowenta Compact Steam Iron. Pressing is BIG in quilting. This iron is the best investment I have made. Thank Deanne. Jackie
Debby Krzyston says
Hi, My Tip is…When your changing your bobbin and spool of thread, cut your thread just before you it starts at the first tension. Pull the cut thread from the needle. Any thread lint won’t get caught in your different points of tension. Same thing for your bobbin. Cut your thread at the bobbin and pull the loose thread out by the tail.
This avoids lint going back into your machine and bobbin case.
Julia Sackett says
I am so happy to share this tip. Take a netting bath scrubbie/loufah and rub it on your cutting mat after you finish cutting and it will lift up the threads caught on the cutting mat.
Thanks for all the tips!!
Ariel Koenigsberg says
These are all great tips. So helpful to glean this knowledge from so many experienced quilters. I have a fabric caddy made for me by a lady in Lewistown MT that has pockets for all my essentials when sewing, scissors, seam ripper, marking pen, etc. It fits under my sewing machine and drapes down the front of my table. I also use a film canister to hold my pins when needing to transport them.
Janet T says
I am a container saver. Breath mint tins, tins men’s wallets come in, candy tins, small plastic candy containers. There are so many uses for them. You can make sewing kits with the breath mint ones, store bobbins in the wallet ones, store or throw away needles from the candy or floss containers, etc. Prescription bottles will hold some spools of thread and needles for applique on the go. Many containers, many ideas!
Great tips. I keep bobbins in one of the 7 day pill keepers. 2 bobbins will fit in each little compartment and the lids keep them from spilling out, especially in my travel sewing bag.
My tip is to use rubber door stops to lift the back of the machine. This helps you see the needle part better—especially if you have bi-focals!
Oh these are great, thanks!!